Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
Photo: Moshe Nachomovitz
Benjamin Netanyahu

You can't sit with us: 'Mean' Netanyahu naysayers may be onto something

In an exclusive opinion piece for Ynet, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak says that calls to 'boycott' Netanyahu are not uttered out of spite, but out of understanding that accused criminals should not even serve as bank clerks, let alone as heads of state

Ehud Barak |
Published: 08.30.22, 23:43
Two days ago, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit wrote a piece for Ynet's sister outlet Yedioth Ahronoth where he called on those opposing Benjamin Netanyahu to begin discussing the idea of him returning to power following the November 1 elections in a sensible manner.
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  • Rather than making bully-like remarks, such as "we refuse to sit with him," Shavit suggested creating a list of values, policies, and proposals of Israel's center bloc, and all those who share said values can come "and sit with us," in a political alliance.
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    השבעת הממשלה
    השבעת הממשלה
    Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: AFP)
    While Shavit is a man of wisdom, his piece reflects a poor assessment of reality and moral blindness. He blames the political crisis, open wounds in Israel's society, and the dysfunctional system on the center bloc's fixated obsession with rooting for anyone but Netanyahu.
    I believe the reality to be just the opposite.
    The source of the current political crisis, which will see Israel in a couple of months stage elections for the fifth time in two years, is Netanyahu!
    He has dragged the country into election cycles time and time again, while scorning the values of truth and loyalty, which are supposed to act as the foundation of democracy, trampling on the judicial system and the principle of being equal before the law.
    Our society's festering wounds are constantly picked at by Netanyahu, who continues to feed on bad blood, which he himself stirs up.
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    Anti-Benjamin Netanyahu protest
    Anti-Benjamin Netanyahu protest
    Anti-Benjamin Netanyahu protest
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    And no, it's not because the Israeli political center stopped believing in socialism or in peace. The falling education, healthcare, and transportation systems, as well as the long-lasting absence of accessible housing, are the aftermath of Netanyahu's decade-long premiership reign. And it's also not because of the centrist parties failed to disengage from the Palestinians.

    Not a gut feeling, but a well-reasoned assessment

    In recent years, Netanyahu has lost touch with any form of restraint, while his cronies label anyone who goes against him as "traitors." Netanyahu and his followers are waging smear campaigns against their opponents, including Naftali Bennett, Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa'ar and Gilad Kariv. They are pressuring politicians - such as former coalition members Idit Silman and Nir Orbach - to switch sides, using methods more fitting for an organized crime group than a legitimate political entity.
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    Nir Orbach, Idit Silman
    Nir Orbach, Idit Silman
    Nir Orbach, Idit Silman
    (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch, Alex Kolomoisky)
    Who can, or should, deal with a man like this in a "matter-of-fact" manner - as Shavit suggests? What sensible conversation can be held with him? With a man that has lied time after time to his many - now former - political partners.
    What awaits this country if he indeed does get reelected? An overriding clause, dismissal of the attorney general, politicians appointed in place of Supreme Court justices, likely cancelation of his criminal trial - and all these are just the beginning.
    In the State of Israel, where there is neither a constitution nor a checks and balances system, Netanyahu poses a real and imminent threat to the social order, to the separation of powers, and to democracy. And this is before we get into the package deal that he will bring with him to the Knesset - including far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, and other messianic racists, fanatics, and benighted politicians.
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    השבעת הממשלה
    השבעת הממשלה
    Itamar Ben-Gvir
    (Photo: AP)
    The calls to vote for "anyone but Netanyahu" are being said neither on a whim, nor out of an impulsive obsession - as Shavit claims.
    These are calls that come from people with common sense and a clear perception of the reality and dangerous dynamics the Netanyahu/Ben-Gvir duo represents. These are calls to differentiate between anyone who believes in a rational state government that serves its citizens, and the dark alliance of messianic corruptness.
    These are calls to bring to our attention that the absolute majority of Likud voters are worthy, intelligent, and patriotic citizens, and are not responsible for Netanyahu's faults or Ben-Gvir's racism. The Likud, without Netanyahu at its head, is a worthy ally in any government.
    These calls emphasize that anyone who was - allegedly - heavily involved in criminal activity and could not serve as a school principal or a bank manager, let alone become the head of state. This is the heart and soul of the argument, nothing further.
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    Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020
    Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020
    Anti-Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020
    (Photo: EPA)

    The center bloc's vision

    The centrist parties, too, are not short of weaknesses, but they and their supporters do not, in my humble opinion, have a primitive hostility towards Netanyahu, as Shavit argues. I am one of his biggest critics, but I have never felt animosity toward Netanyahu. Not when I guided him as a young military officer, or when I defeated him in elections, or when I served as defense minister in his government, or during any other phase along the way. Netanyahu is a man of great capabilities.
    My public criticism of him is uttered out of honest observations of his conduct and comparison to how I believe a prime minister should act. This is the test Netanyahu has failed in over and over again, especially in the last few years of his tenure as premier.
    This is why the Likud, headed by him, was abandoned by its more ethical members - Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Gideon Saar, and Ze'ev Elkin. And if my predictions are correct, there will be more who will leave the party following the November 1 elections. Israel must excuse Netanyahu from public service, and take Ben-Gvir and anyone like him out of any governmental equation.
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    An Israeli protester holds a sign calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, using his nickname "Bibi," shortly after results of the U.S. presidential election were announced, during a protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem
    An Israeli protester holds a sign calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, using his nickname "Bibi," shortly after results of the U.S. presidential election were announced, during a protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem
    An Israeli protester holds a sign calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly after results of the U.S. presidential election were announced in 2020
    (Photo: AP)
    As for the political center- it is not fair to say it does not have a vision, a set of values, or a way to achieve them. It's inaccurate to claim they are viewed with antagonism by Jewish settlers or religious Jews. What they are doing is resisting the political vision of the settler leadership, which if achieved, will turn Israel into a country that is neither Jewish nor democratic. The center is not against the ultra-Orthodox, who are brothers and Jews like all of us. The center is against the Haredi intervention in the public sphere, and in favor of listening to the secular people and evenly dispersing the burden and opportunities in front of us.
    The center bloc's vision is a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, which is strong and confident and has a place among the developed countries in the world. A country where the public lives in peace with one another, and eventually with its neighbors as well. A solidary state that counters polarity, provides equal opportunities for all and demands responsibility from every member of its community.
    The leading values of this bloc are as follows: First, security over everything. Second, the integrity of the people precedes the integrity of the land. Third, the declaration of independence is the moral basis of Israel and the basis of its constitution. And fourth, achievements of the state belong to the citizens and they are entitled to reap the fruits.
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    Protesters hold the Israeli national flag during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv
    Protesters hold the Israeli national flag during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv
    Protesters hold the Israeli national flag during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Oded Balilty, AP)
    Netanyahu, the great deceiver, is trying - some would say successfully - to convince parts of the Israeli public that he, too, believes in these principles. A careful examination immediately reveals the faults and lies in this pretension, the inconceivable gap between his rhetoric of omnipotent power and victimized whining. And most of all, the huge gap between talk and action.
    This is what the upcoming elections are about. Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir do not truly share the values mentioned above. Therefore, there is no room to form an alliance with them. An opportunity to make peace among political parties will also come after the elections. Until then, we must not overlook the depth of the disagreements with Netanyahu and the cult he has created to stand by his side.

    Ehud Barak is a former IDF chief of staff, defense minister and prime minister of Israel.
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